Accessibility or Inclusivity? The Right Approach to ADA Compliance

By Ryan Clarke

Hoteliers have been hearing a lot about Accessibility these days. But not, like they’re used to, in terms of physical access to the property. Rather, in the digital sense.

Stephen wrote about it back in 2015. And more recently, our in-house Accessibility expert, Nick Adkins, outlined Wallop’s current approach to solving this.

I think the best way for anyone to learn anything about web development would be listen to a developer try to explain that thing to an account person. Why? Because they are forced to explain it using very simple language. So, I’m going to try to structure this article in that way, and hopefully shed some light on the current Accessibility conversation, in the most accessible language.

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. But most recent changes having to do with digital accessibility have caused our clients to take particular notice. If not themselves, every hotelier seems to have some connection to an ADA-related lawsuit. In Canada, our accessibility laws fall under the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977. Here’s a great article on Canadian standards. Both follow the WCAG 2.o conformance requirements.

Whereas most of hoteliers are familiar with examples of accessibility features in the physical world (access ramps, tactile paving strips, large font signage, speakers at crosswalks), many still don’t really know what it means to provide an “accessible” digital experience to their guests on the web.

Focus on Inclusivity

Recently, The Rick Hansen Foundation awarded Vancouver’s YVR airport with the first ever accessibility Gold rating. This is certainly something to be proud of. But more than just checking off the boxes, the committee noted that YVR has succeeded in prioritizing inclusivity in the design of their shared, public space. This means they don’t make travellers with disabilities take separate entrances, inconveniently located elevators, or, really use the space any differently from anyone else. Everyone moves through the same accessible paths, without really noticing it.

I’ve been chatting through this idea of inclusivity (vs. basic accessibility) with our developer, Terra Pope, about how this applies to the web. I’ve included some snippets from our conversation below. She brought up some really good points around why the move towards inclusivity is not only good for society, but also good for business.

“Inclusive design allows you to rethink problems and come up with more optimal solutions for a wider audience than you might have been reaching before. It actually grows your user base. Meaning more you’re opening your conversion path to more potential customers.”

Using the real world case of YVR, Terra uses the example that: “In an airport, wheelchair friendly paths aren’t just useful for people in wheelchairs – they’re easier for people using crutches, parents with strollers, people pulling roller bags, etc.  On the web, accessibility tools tend to actually make things easier for all users.”

Every traveller’s journeys has elements of uncertainty – weather, traffic, mechanical failures, overbooking, labour strikes, cancellations, bed bugs, late arrivals, all of which are [mostly] out of the traveler’s control. And of course, this is part of what makes travel exciting.

“But for a traveller with low vision, difficulty hearing, or someone who uses a wheelchair, the journey can quickly change from “difficult” to “impossible” without a properly designed, network of inclusive infrastructure. And this includes the web.”

Digital Inclusivity for Hotels

Given that the customer journey starts on the screen. If a traveller with a disability is excluded from the searching and booking process for a particular hotel, why should they trust that hotel to include them when they arrive on property?

Terra notes that “this isn’t limited to persons with permanent disabilities either. If a new mom is planning a trip back home to show off her new family member, but has to hold the baby while making travel plans, how easy is it for her to navigate hotel websites to book with one hand etc. Or if you broke your right hand and couldn’t use a mouse for 12 weeks – how would you navigate and get around different sites to book a trip that’s 6 months out?

At the end of the day, the thing that matters is that the user coming to your site can get the content they require and can perform the actions you want them to perform.”

Five things you can do this year:
  1. Shift your organization’s outlook. Stop seeing ADA compliance as a scary, legal burden. Instead, try to see it as an opportunity to ultimately help your organization build more inclusive digital products (which ultimately grows your audience and improves conversion).
  2. Plan an audit. Top level audits usually take about 2-4 hours depending on the size of your site. Our team specializes in fixing existing development frameworks. Email me here, and I will send you more information.
  3. Set a realistic timeline. It’s a process, it will take time.
  4. Consider rebuilding your site. If it’s more than 3 years old, the cost to fix it might be more than the cost to rebuild. The upside is that, if it’s been 3 years, you could probably use a refresh.
  5. Add an Accessibility Statement to your site.